When homeowners get the $150 state fire prevention fee bill in the mail, it is important to know that they will have 30 days to pay it. The remittance due date is going to be less than 30 days.
Why? Because the 30-day due date starts ticking from the date listed on the bill’s letterhead, not the postmark or the day received. As explained by County Assessor Karl Weiland, you must look at the letter to determine how much of your 30 days are left. And don’t wait till the last moment. We wouldn’t count on the state to rely on postmarks — and certainly not check dates — to figure out whether to assess a person a 20 percent per month penalty.
Read carefully where to send the check and where to send the protest. If you are in a local fire protection district you can deduct $35 from the $150. You will need to provide proof of this. Most fire districts charge a parcel fee, so you can use a copy of your tax bill. The assessor said his office is “still working out how to document this one.”
If it doesn’t show up on your latest property tax bill, ask your fire district for a letter of confirmation or ask the Local Agency Formation Commission.
These bills are for those who were owner of record as of July 1, 2011.
Two other types of property are exempt: Anyone who lives within the city limits of Placerville or South Lake Tahoe and anyone whose home is within the national forest and thus is in a Federal Responsibility Area.
Placerville city residents have a Tax Rate Area number that starts with 001 and South Lake Tahoe homeowners TRA starts with 002, according to Weiland. That is an assessor’s number, which will show up on your valuation notification from the Assessor’s Office.
To confirm you are in a Federal Responsibility Area and not a so-called State Responsiblity Area you will need to submit proof, such as a lease agreement with the Forest Service.
In almost all cases your only option is to mark the box “Other,” Weiland said. Also included in “other” is your protest of this fire fee as being an illegal tax passed without a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature.
Be careful because you may have to send your check one place and your exemption or protest to another address. Accuracy of the state’s billing is not a sure thing, because it is being put together by a private consultant who has released very little information. Weiland told the Taxpayers Association of El Dorado County Monday that the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is trying to avoid creating an administrative record because it knows it will be sued by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and possibly at least one other nonprofit public interest agency.
Weiland recommends writing on your check “Paid under protest.” Copy your check and your letter of protest and keep it in a place you can find it. You will need to establish your own administrative record, so to speak. Write “Paid under protest” on the bill as well.
Protest applications with instructions can be found at the Howard Jarvis Website HJTA.org. Another helpful Website is firetaxprotest.org. Basic information can be found at firepreventionfee.org/sra_appeals.php. That latter Website has the official “Petition for Redermination” under SRA Quick Links.”
It has three boxes to choose from: Not in SRA and number of habitable structures overstated, due $35 exemption, and “Other.”
Be sure to pay the fee without delay.